The End of the World
A mile east of the Tijuana International Airport is an area police call El Fin del Mundo, the End of the World, where drug-cartel assassins dump their victims. Both Mexican and American citizens have been found there. On December 18, 2004, according to Sergeant Tom Bulow of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, San Marcos resident Noé Chávez García was lured to Tijuana by two acquaintances who shot him several times and left him in this corpse-disposal zone. He survived his wounds to tell his story to the FBI and Mexican officials. His is a rare case — he lived.
"A total of more than 4,800 Mexicans were slain in 2006 and 2007," reports the Washington Post on March 16, 2008, "making the murder rate in each of those years twice that of 2005. Law enforcement officials and journalists, politicians and peasants have been gunned down in the wave of violence."
"What affects one side affects the other," Mayor Jerry Sanders tells USA Today on February 5, 2007. "We're literally one region with a fence down the middle."
"The murder rate in Tijuana is certainly not more than about 500 per year," states USBorderPatrol.com, which is not an official government website. Maintained by "supporters of the United States Border Patrol," apparently Minutemen-friendly watchdogs, the site has an in-your-face manner that a government site cannot. It asks, "Of course, when is a body count an actual body count?" and adds, "This is the number of people discovered on the street, in cars, in houses, or mysteriously plopped at Tijuana's city dump within a dozen miles or so of the city center. The 500 does not include the vast numbers of 'others' who find their way into shallow graves scattered across the 10,000 square miles of desert sands from Tijuana to the Sea of Cortez."
A Violent Timeline
1985 — Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, a former police officer from the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, is the first Mexican drug czar to link up with Colombia's cocaine cartels. He is known as "El Padrino." "He and other druglords shared the Tijuana corridor," writes Time magazine. After the February 9 murder of Enrique Camarena, an undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Reagan administration pressures Mexican authorities to take action.
April 8, 1989 — Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo is apprehended in Sinaloa. The New York Times reports, "Hours after he was arrested… army troops…rounded up the entire city police force — about 300 men — for questioning about possible links to Mr. Félix Gallardo, who American officials believe smuggled as much as two tons of cocaine into the United States each month." Many police officers defect from the force.
1990–1993 — Gallardo's organization breaks into two factions: the Tijuana cartel, led by his seven nephews and four nieces, the Arellano Félix family; and the Sinaloa cartel, run by former lieutenants Héctor Luís Palma Salazar and Joaquín Guzmán Loera. Both organized-crime syndicates engage in kidnap for ransom, assassinations, and drug transportation. "Into Tijuana roared the seven Arellano brothers," states a Time article, describing the brothers as "handsome Benjamín, their CEO; chubby Ramón, the enforcer; finance-whiz Eduardo, 44, the money launderer; and the eldest, Francisco, 51, the gregarious, cross-dressing pitchman who, say officials, cemented the clan's top-drawer political and police alliances, usually out of his Mazatlán discotheque, Frankie O's."
December 3, 1993 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix (aka "El Comandante Mon") is arrested by the Mexican Federal Judicial Police in Tijuana. The Mexico City newspaper Reforma notes he was once arrested in San Diego in 1980 for selling 250 grams of cocaine to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent. He is incarcerated on drug charges, for illegal arms possession, and for complicity in the murder of Catholic Church cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo as the cardinal stepped out of his car at the Guadalajara airport.
March 23, 1994 — At a campaign rally in Tijuana, presidential candidate Luís Donaldo Colosio is killed by bullets to the head and abdomen. An article, "Mexico's Fiesta of Assassins," posted at meta-religion.com, states that "the first official explanation has it that the gunman, Mario Aburto Martínez, is a deranged loner craving notoriety," although "a preponderance [of] evidence does indeed point to a conspiracy: Colosio's autopsy would show that he had been shot twice and that bullets had entered opposite sides of his body. Videotapes of the shooting show that Colosio did not turn after the first shot, which suggests a second gunman."
Tijuana police arrest a second man on March 23, caught running from the rally with blood on his clothes. According to the Federal News Service, Tijuana's municipal police chief, José Federico Benítez López, has posted his men at the rally in defiance of "PRI operatives, who counseled him to let them handle security." The man Tijuana police arrest, Jorge Antonio Sánchez, tests positive for powder burns. However, federal authorities release him. "According to the weekly news magazine Proceso," the Federal News Service article continues, "Sánchez turned out to be an agent of the Center of Investigations and National Security (CISEN), Mexico's counterpart to the CIA."
April 28, 1994 — Police chief José Federico Benítez López is assassinated "in a meticulously planned ambush on a Tijuana street," according to the Federal News Service. Not satisfied with the official explanations of the Colosio assassination, and against political party objections, Benítez has been investigating Colosio's PRI security team, looking for other conspirators. "He discovered that the team leader, José Rodolfo Rivapalacio, was a former state police commander who had been accused of torture by the federal government's human rights commission… whose own daughter described him as 'a very violent man' who beat his wife and children, and who San Diego police suspect of hiring a hit man in a botched attempt to murder his estranged wife in the United States." Benítez's files on Rivapalacio disappear from police headquarters days before Benítez is gunned down. Anna Cearley of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that shortly before his death, Benítez apparently turns down a $100,000 bribe from drug traffickers.
January 3, 1997 — Baja California state prosecutor Hodín Armando Gutiérrez Rico is shot more than 100 times outside his home and then run over by a van. Tijuana paper Frontera reports that this is "just one in a string of unsolved murders of law enforcement authorities over the past year. It was the eighth killing in 11 months of prosecutors or police commanders involved in drug-related investigations." Government reports state there were 800 murders in Tijuana in 1996, 75 percent of them executions between drug traffickers.
A former commander of the federal police, Rodolfo García Gaxiola, is believed to have ordered the Gutiérrez assassination. "Gutiérrez had moved to arrest…Rodolfo García Gaxiola," according to the Los Angeles Times, "in the killing of [police chief Benítez], but a Mazatlán judge canceled the arrest warrant in October." States Frontera, "Witness testimony placed the federal commander García at the scene of Benítez' assassination."
March 5, 1997 — Alejandro Hodoyán, a witness to cartel violence, disappears. "His mother watched helplessly as her eldest son was kidnapped at gunpoint in broad daylight in downtown Tijuana five years ago," notes the Los Angeles Times. "She had been driving him to San Diego, where Hodoyán was to enter the U.S. federal witness-protection program."
September 18, 1997 — In a press release issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Ramón Arellano Félix is named as the 451st person added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and "has been charged in a sealed indictment in U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, with Conspiracy to Import Cocaine and Marijuana."
October 1997 — Mexico's federal attorney general's office freezes the assets of Aero Postal de Mexico after seizing a shipment of cocaine from one of its planes. The Arizona Daily Star reports that "Mexican federal officials suspect the cargo-carrying company of transporting drugs for the Tijuana-based cartel of the Arellano Félix family, an unidentified official told Reforma. Aero Postal's owner, Jesús Villegas Covallos, became one of the principal allies of the organization in the transfer of drugs outside Mexico."
1998 — According to USBorderPatrol.com, in an effort to consolidate power, the Arellano Félix cartel of Tijuana and the Sonora cartel (aka the Caro-Quintero cartel) of Juárez form the "Federation."
September 17, 1998 — Ramón Arellano Félix orders a hit that results in the mass murder of 18 people near Ensenada. The Los Angeles Times reports that the hit was punishment for "rival, upstart drug traffickers who failed to pay the Arellano Félixes for transit rights through the Baja corridor." Eighteen men, women, and children are lined up and executed one by one.
February 27, 2000 — Tijuana's police chief, Alfredo de la Torre Márquez, is murdered. The New York Times reports that "gunmen in cars ambushed and killed [the police chief] as he drove on a highway. Dozens of bullets hit him." Governor Alejandro González Alcocer of Baja California claims the violence and drug traffic are out of control because many federales are on the cartel's payroll. "The drugs are coming in by land, sea and air," González tells the New York Times. Attempts to combat trafficking are compromised, he says, stating, "We worry that if we try to coordinate operations with [the federales], our plans will be communicated to the traffickers."
March 12, 2000 — Mexican soldiers apprehend Jesús Labra Avilés (aka "El Chuy"), the Arellano Félixes' "financial mastermind," according to Frontline, at pbs.org, "as he watched his son play football in Tijuana." A few days later, Labra's lawyer, Gustavo Gálvez Reyes, is found tortured and slain.
May 4, 2000 — The Arellano Félix cartel's top lieutenant, Ismael Higuera Guerrero (aka "El Mayel"), is arrested during a raid on his beachfront home in Ensenada. The Frontline website notes, "Following his arrest, federal prosecutors in San Diego unsealed an indictment against Higuera, accusing him of drug trafficking and money laundering.… [He] also faces a homicide charge in a Baja California state court for his role in the 1994 slaying of Tijuana's [police chief] Federico Benítez López. He has also been linked to the slayings of the three anti-drug agents in Tijuana…as well as the murder of Tijuana's police chief, Alfredo de la Torre Márquez."
May 11, 2000 — The U.S. Department of Justice sends out a news release unsealing a ten-count indictment charging Benjamín Arellano Félix and his brother Ramón. A $2 million reward is offered for information leading to the arrest of Ramón.
February 10, 2002 — Ramón Arellano Félix is killed in a gun battle with police in Mazatlán, Sinaloa.
March 11, 2002 — The U.S. Department of the State announces, "On March 10, the Government of Mexico arrested Benjamín Arellano-Felix…[who] was named on the Department of Treasury's drug kingpin list" and adds that this "is the most significant arrest ever of a wanted drug trafficker in Mexico. It also advances the bilateral Mexico-U.S. effort to dismantle a violent and powerful transborder criminal organization." With Ramón dead and Francisco Rafael and Benjamín in custody, the youngest brother, Francisco Javier, becomes leader of the cartel. Analyzing the situation, Strategic Forecasting, Inc., at stratfor.com, suggests "that a shake-up in the administration is what was needed to make the family business more lucrative." Mexico refuses to extradite Benjamín to the United States.
June 22, 2004 — Editor and reporter for Tijuana's "muckraking" tabloid Zeta, Francisco Ortíz Franco, is gunned down two blocks from state police headquarters. He had been writing about the drug trade and the Arellano Félix cartel's turf battles. The assassination takes place outside his doctor's office in downtown Tijuana. He has two children with him.
Joel Simon and Carlos Lauría, on the Committee to Protect Journalists website (cpj.org), describe the incident: "[Ortíz] buckled 11-year-old Héctor Daniel and 9-year-old Andrea into the backseat, walked around the car, and got in. Before he could start the engine, a black Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled alongside, and a man wearing a black wool ski mask jumped out. The gunman fired four times from a .380-caliber handgun through the driver's side window, hitting Ortíz Franco in the chest, head, and neck and killing him instantly, according to the editor's widow, who has reviewed the case file. The killer climbed back into the Jeep Cherokee and sped away. The murder took mere seconds."
June 28, 2004 — The U-T reports that Jaime Ocampo, a suspected hit man for the Tijuana cartel, is arrested in Rosarito Beach. "He and his wife had moved into a brand new house in a rapidly growing east Chula Vista subdivision where homes go for $600,000 to $1 million."
April 27–May 4, 2005 — Comandos Negros, "or Black Commandos, are part of a dark season of violence that has set new standards for brazenness and frequency in this crime-weary city" of Tijuana, reports the Los Angeles Times. On April 27, "waving AK-47 rifles, the black-hooded force of 10 assailants barged into [a] hacienda-style restaurant" in Zona Rio, kidnapping Adolfo Fregoso, co-owner of the upscale Carnitas Quiroga Restaurant. On May 4, ten men dressed similarly converge on Club Campestre and grab 30-year-old Iván Escobosa. "Escobosa was dragged off the staircase entrance…at an hour when many parents are dropping off their children for swimming and tennis lessons. A club supervisor said Escobosa's screams were heard in the chandeliered dining room nearby," according to the L.A. Times story. Both these men, who have drug-smuggling connections, are later found dead, "tortured, strangled and shot execution style."
August 17, 2005 — At the United Nations, Mexican president Vicente Fox tells the Bush administration to stop complaining about Mexico's record in the drug war; he requests assistance to fight dominant cocaine cartels.
June 21, 2006 — Three police officers in Rosarito Beach are beheaded. Ismael Arellano Torres, 36, Jesús Hernández Ballesteros, 42, and Benjamín Fabián Ventura, 35, are "slain after an armed group surrounded their cars…in a remote part of the city," reports the U-T, adding that while their bodies are recovered in Rosarito, their heads are found in Tijuana.
August 14, 2006 — The U.S. Justice Department announces that the United States Coast Guard has apprehended Francisco Javier Arellano Félix in the waters of Baja California Sur on his yacht, Dock Holiday. While Francisco Javier is being moved to San Diego's federal detention center, the San Diego Harbor is heavily patrolled by the Coast Guard and Harbor Police, in case the Arellano Félix family's private mercenary army attempts a rescue, according to the Associated Press.
September 16, 2006 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix finishes his sentence in a Mexican prison; he is extradited to the United States to face charges.
September 24, 2006 — The body of Miguel Angel Ramos Pintado, a cousin of former Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo, is found near Tecate. Ramos has been missing since September 14. The U-T reports that his daughter, Nadia Karina Ramos Robles, a contestant for the Miss Mexico beauty contest, withdraws from the pageant.
September 26, 2006 — Julieta Martínez reports in El Sol de Tijuana: "Despite the enhanced police presence in Tijuana, an armed commando kidnapped five persons, four men and a woman, in broad daylight…in front of the city's Pacific Industrial Park."
January 3, 2007 — Newly elected Mexico president Felipe Calderón sends 3300 army troops and federal police into Tijuana to help combat drug violence and weed out corrupt police officers.
January 5, 2007 — Suspecting corruption, President Calderón orders 2000 Tijuana police officers stripped of their guns so the weapons can be matched to recent homicides. Police are issued slingshots and bags of ball bearings. This incident makes international news, from the BBC to NPR to China's Beijing-based news service Xinhua, which opens a January 23 article: "In the Old Testament of the Christian Bible a young boy named David killed a giant enemy warrior named Goliath with a stone hurled from a sling. Tijuana, Mexico police may be praying they will be so lucky." Most officers refuse to patrol their usual routes, staying home, quitting, or joining the drug gangs, reports the Associated Press. Those who show up for work (around 60) stick close to the army troops and federales. Cartel members broadcast threats and ridicule over police radios.
January 13, 2007 — The Tijuana cops get their guns back, and they are patrolling once again.
February 3, 2007 — If President Calderón does not have enough problems with the drug cartels, Prensa Latina — the Latin American news network — reports that he is "a president under siege," opposed by factions within his party. "Calderón has not only had to face his political adversaries but also the 'friendly fire' from within his own Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). It is even said that his worst enemy, the most aggressive and unscrupulous, is the PAN, whose president Manuel Espino is a furious nationalist who also leads the Christian Democrat Organization of America."
April 18, 2007 — Tijuana police engage in a shootout with drug traffickers near the downtown bus station. "Police tried to stop a truck carrying two alleged Arellano Félix gunmen suspected of plotting to attack members of a rival [Milenio] cartel," reports the Associated Press. One suspect is killed, and another, Javier Estrada Dominguez, is wounded. The injured gunman is transported to the General Hospital in Rio Tijuana, a quarter mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. Four armed men storm into the hospital looking for Estrada. A second gun battle breaks out between police and this gang of four. Two state officers are killed. Twenty people are allegedly taken hostage, but Tijuana officials later claim no hostages were taken. Police and army troops are dispatched to the hospital. Patients and hospital staff are evacuated. One of the suspects is apprehended; the other three apparently escape.
May 10, 2007 — Reporters Without Borders voices concern about "gruesome threatening messages aimed at journalists and the fact that one of the latest messages, which are being blamed on drug traffickers, was followed four days later by an apparent attempt to kill a leading investigative journalist by sabotaging her car." On May 7, as the reporter and her three police bodyguards drive away from the airport in Mexico City, the driver loses control and nearly crashes. The lug nuts have been loosened on one of the wheels. "On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the head of a corpse was left on a street in the eastern city of Veracruz along with the message: 'Here is a gift for journalists, and other heads will fall, as Milo Vela well knows.' Vela is a columnist who writes for the Veracruz-based daily Notiver." Such communiqués are termed "narco-messages."
June 18, 2007 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix pleads guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He serves time in a prison in El Paso, Texas.
September 13, 2007 — The U.S. Department of State issues a "Consular Information Sheet" on Mexico that says: "Mexican police regularly obtain information through torture and prosecutors use this evidence in courts. The Mexican Constitution and the law prohibit torture, and Mexico is party to several international anti-torture conventions, but courts continue to admit as evidence confessions extracted under torture. Authorities rarely punish officials for torture, which continues to occur in large part because confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal convictions. U.S. citizens have been brutalized, beaten, and even raped while in police custody. Since the beginning of 2002, 21 U.S. citizens have died in Mexican prisons, including five apparent homicides."
September 17, 2007 — Francisco Javier Arellano Félix pleads guilty in a San Diego federal court to "operating a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to launder monetary instruments," according to the Department of Justice. The plea deal includes lifting the death penalty.
September 24, 2007 — Gunmen fire automatic weapons from several vehicles, attacking a post manned by federales in the Francisco Villa neighborhood. The battle lasts ten minutes. One civilian passerby is killed, two others wounded, and two federal agents are injured. "The windows of seven government vehicles and the metal fence of a nearby school are destroyed by the storm of bullets," Frontera states, reporting that citizen Alfredo Luna Raye, walking with his girlfriend in front of the targeted building, is killed when he enters the line of fire. His girlfriend is wounded.
Two hours before the Francisco Villa assault, officer Ricardo Rosas Alvarado, assigned to a "special intelligence unit," is murdered in a parking lot in Tijuana. Baja California state policeman Carlos Horacio Morales Méndez is also murdered.
The Associated Press reports that 680 additional federales are dispatched to Tijuana.
September 25, 2007 — A Tijuana police officer is arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for attempting to smuggle cocaine worth $50,000 across the border. The 35-year-old Mexican cop resists arrest as agents try to handcuff him. He attempts to flee back into Mexico and is apprehended before he makes it, Customs and Border Protection states in a news release.
September 27, 2007 — Five hundred additional army troops are sent into Tijuana, in anticipation of violent reactions to the sentencing of Francisco Javier Arellano Félix, according to the Associated Press.
October 13, 2007 — The Sánchez family of San Diego is in Baja, driving their van toward the border, when they are approached by a group of armed men dressed as police officers. The family believes the men are indeed police officers, but they are kidnappers. The family's van is peppered with gunfire. Robert and Rosa Sánchez, as well as his mother, are injured by bullets, according to the U-T. Their two-year-old daughter is not hurt. Robert's 68-year-old father, José Maria Sánchez, is taken hostage.
The FBI reports that it is investigating 26 kidnapping cases of American citizens in 2007, compared to 11 in 2006 and 10 in 2005. The number of Mexican citizens kidnapped is high and unknown, because many are never reported.
October 16, 2007 — José Maria Sánchez is found wandering along a highway outside Tijuana, hands bound and eyes blindfolded, according to wire news service EFE. He has been beaten by his captors. He is returned to his family in San Ysidro. The Associated Press reports that police and the family will not confirm whether a ransom has been paid; authorities suggest his safe release may be a result of broad international media coverage of his kidnapping, as well as pressure on the kidnappers from the U.S. and Mexican governments.
October 23, 2007 — A woman from Encinitas reports that gunmen dressed as police raped her in front of her boyfriend. They're in Mexico after evacuating their home during the San Diego wildfires. The Associated Press covers the story, stating, "Lori Hoffman and her boyfriend, surf school owner Pat Weber, were robbed at a beach south of Ensenada.… [They] were in a recreational vehicle when they were attacked by two men wearing masks and combat boots. The attackers shot up the RV when Weber initially refused to open the door and then terrorized the couple. Hoffman said she was sexually assaulted in front of her boyfriend before the men fled with $8,000 worth of laptop computers, jewelry, tools, and Weber's guitar."
November 5, 2007 — Francisco Javier Arellano Félix is sentenced to life in prison. The Imperial Valley News reports, "At the sentencing hearing at federal court in San Diego… U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns also ordered Arellano Félix, 37, to forfeit $50 million and his interest in a yacht, the Dock Holiday."
At a press conference, acting deputy attorney general Craig S. Morford states, "Francisco Javier Arellano Félix will spend the rest of his life in prison for leading a violent Mexican drug cartel that was responsible for trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana, and committing countless acts of violence and corruption."
November 2007 — An El Cajon family claims they are held hostage in a Tijuana carjacking. The Associated Press reports that "Christopher and Debra Hall, their 16-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter were returning from taking part in the Baja 1000 off-road race when a car with flashing red lights and a siren pulled up behind them as they entered Tijuana.… [Ten] men jumped out of two cars. Five got into their pickup truck and pointed guns at their heads. The men then drove the truck into isolated hills." One of the men orders the family to get on their knees. They think they are going to be executed. They are let go and cross back into the United States "with just the clothes on their back," according to San Diego police.
November–December 2007 — Many news outlets report that violence is escalating in Tijuana as rival gangs try to take over drug routes operated by the Arellano Félix family. In other border cities, notes the El Paso Journal — such as Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, and Nuevo Laredo — similar turf wars are fought between rival gangs who perceive the end of the Arellano Félix cartel.
The region south of the Texas border is dominated by the Gulf cartel's private army, Los Zetas. "Led by Heriberto Lazcano, Los Zetas are a highly disciplined mercenary squad composed of former elite Mexican troops, including officers trained by the U.S. military before they deserted," according to the Washington Post. Anticipating battles with the Mexican armed forces, Los Zetas have stocked safe houses with antitank missiles, assault rifles, and grenade launchers — weapons believed by the Mexican government to have been stolen from the U.S. Army.
December 1, 2007 — Jorge Ramos is sworn in as the new mayor of Tijuana. A new police chief, Jesús Alberto Capella Ibarra, takes over the force. Capella is nicknamed "Tijuana Rambo" after he fights his way out of an assassination attempt before taking office. Richard Marosi of the Los Angeles Times reports, "The bullet holes pockmarking the walls of his home were just three days old when Alberto Capella Ibarra took over the police force of this violence-plagued city. Twenty gunmen dressed in black had swarmed his yard in the middle of the night, and he'd fought them off, firing an automatic rifle."
Capella admits to the press that an estimated 15 percent of the city's 2300 police officers work for the drug cartels, earning wages as bodyguards, kidnappers, and assassins. "We have the enemy in our house," Capella dramatically tells the international press.
The L.A. Times describes Capella as "a chubby, soft-spoken 36-year-old with no police training.… He moves around the city in a six-car convoy with 20 bodyguards. He can't even stop at a taco stand without scaring off customers who fear gunmen will drive up and blast away."
Both Ramos and Capella wish to make the city "look safe" so tourists will return. Reports state that tourism has declined 90 percent; many businesses are suffering, and poverty is rampant. "The violence is marring a city that has been going through an architectural and artistic renaissance," reports the Associated Press. The New York Times notes that desperate people agree to become "mules," ingesting drugs to smuggle across the San Ysidro and Otay borders at $500 a trip.
December 1, 2007 — The Associated Press states, "Masked bandits have attacked and robbed Baja California tourists at least seven times in recent months, acting with paramilitary precision." The decline in tourism has become critical.
January 1, 2008 — Veteran Tijuana police officers Jesús Alberto Rodríguez Meraz and Saúl Ovalle Guerrero hatch a get-rich-quick plan that goes south. During the New Year's festivities, reports Mario Gonzáles-Román in his blog at securitycornermexico.com/index.php, the officers pilfer one ton of marijuana from the Arellano Félix cartel. But before they can sell the booty, they are kidnapped. Four days later their bodies are found.
January 2, 2008 — Al Jazeera foreign correspondent Franc Contreras writes from Morelia, in southwest Mexico, that a growing number of musicians are also being caught in the crossfire between drug cartels and Mexican authorities. No one is safe, not even an honest mariachi.
January 8, 2008 — Reuters reports that 1000 federales are dispatched to Tijuana as reinforcements.
January 14, 2008 — Assassins converge on the Loma Bonita neighborhood of Tijuana. Their target: "easygoing" district police commander Margarito Saldaña, 43, according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Telegram. The killers enter the Saldaña house. The family is sleeping. Using AK-47s, the bad guys shoot and kill Saldaña, along with his wife Sandra and 11-year-old daughter Valeria. The Washington Post notes that the "gunmen violated a rarely broken rule of Mexico's drug cartel underworld: Family should remain free from harm."
January 15, 2008 — The assassins hunt down and kill two other Tijuana police officers and "mistakenly" (according to various news reports) kill a three-year-old boy and his mother.
January 17, 2008 — As Tijuana mayor Jorge Ramos attends a memorial for three slain police officers, a battle breaks out in another part of the city between members of the Mexican army, the federales, and local police and members of the Arellano Félix cartel. The three-hour gunfight occurs in La Mesa, a middle-class neighborhood. One suspect is killed, and six bodies — gagged, blindfolded, and shot in the head — are found in a house.
"That night, my mother called from San Ysidro looking for me," writes Daniel Hernández in his blog, danielhernandez.typepad.com, "and left a message with the worried but calming voice that parents usually reserve for news that is sad and frightening. She said the city was 'turning into Baghdad.' On Friday morning, commuters in the Mexico City metro huddled around station newsstands to read the screaming headlines: 'Tijuana burns with killings,' 'War in Tijuana,' 'And now, even kindergartens.' That last one referred to startling images of small schoolchildren in gray uniforms rushing away from the shootout, their little hands clasped over their ears."
January 19, 2008 — In the upscale Independencia neighborhood of Tijuana, Mexican federales raid a home that they believe has been used as an urban battle training center for Arellano Félix gunmen. They find "two armored pickups at the home, along with two other vehicles that had hidden compartments," according to the U-T. A weapons machine shop and a below-ground shooting range are discovered, along with 30,000 spent cartridges "collected in bins along one wall."
February 1, 2008 — Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix is released from the Texas prison. "He received a six-year sentence, which he began serving in January, and was paroled" weeks later, according to Reuters. He received credit toward his U.S. sentence for time served while awaiting extradition in Mexico. "Because his case dates back to 1980, he was eligible for parole under laws that were on the books at that time," states Reuters. With the cartel weakened, he is expected to take a hands-off "godfather" role rather than take over from his sister Enedina.
February 7, 2008 — Mexican soldiers converge on El Mezquito Ranch outside Miguel Alemán, west of Reynosa. The Associated Press reports the recovery of "89 assault rifles, 83,355 rounds of ammunition, and plastic explosives capable of destroying multiple buildings." Also found, two days later in nearby Nuevo Laredo, are eight military uniforms used as disguises. According to numerous news agencies, this and other evidence leads many to believe that the cartels have infiltrated border police forces, including Tijuana's, with spies and operatives.
February 9, 2008 — Reuters and the Associated Press run stories saying that a Mexican army senior officer commanding troops in Baja California confirms that the Arellano Félix cartel is trying to bribe Mexican soldiers. "The officer said that drug gang members are trying to buy off the military so they can continue shipping drugs. Soldiers reported that they are offered money, drugs and prostitutes."
February 15, 2008 — Six bodies are found with signs attached to them that include "information such as the phone number and address of the Mexican army office set up to receive tips about organized crime," reports the Austin American-Statesman. These "narco-messages," sometimes carved into the body's flesh, are intended to scare local residents from reporting tips.
February–March 2008 — The Arellano Félix family seems to be losing its foothold on Tijuana, notes the New York Times and many other news outlets. Enedina Arellano Félix refuses to share territory with the Sinaloa cartel. The numerous arrests of nearly 30 key players in Tijuana hinders the organization. Officials claim various Tijuana smugglers are breaking away from Arellano Félix and teaming up with the Sinaloa cartel, which took over Mexicali drug routes in 2007.
March 3, 2008 — Helicopters are in the night sky; army troop transports rush down Avenida Constitución; federales in trucks, machine guns mounted in the bed, swerve through traffic. They converge on a nearby suburban residence. In the distance, gunfire can be heard. Suspects in a barricaded house fire upon an army patrol unit, sending "residents of a well-to-do neighborhood diving for cover late Sunday and early Monday for more than five hours," says the U-T. One person is killed. Soldiers recover rifles, shotguns, handguns, bulletproof vests, ski masks, and uniforms with the insignia of various Mexican police agencies. The final unnerving discovery is a blue jacket labeled "ICE," for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit.
March 4, 2008 — The U-T reports that "a female between the ages of 16 and 18 was among the five shooting victims found early Tuesday on a rural road in eastern Tijuana.… The four others, all males, ranged in age from 18 to 30, according to a statement from the state office." One hundred fifty spent shell casings are found near the bullet-ridden bodies.
March 11, 2008 — Gustavo Rivera Martínez, who handles drug cargo movements and coordinates kidnapping in Tijuana, is arrested and extradited to the United States. The AFP news service reports that Martínez is a U.S. citizen and a graduate of Bonita Vista High.
March 14, 2008 — Mexican army general Sergio Aponte tells the international media that members of the Arellano Félix cartel have attempted negotiations — they will discontinue violence and kidnappings if the army leaves them and their drug routes alone. "They are losing the battle, and it's a desperate reaction," Aponte states at a press conference.
March 15, 2008 — Mexican authorities capture a Tijuana-based hit man as a direct result of the Martínez arrest. The hit man is Saúl Montes de Oca, aka "El Ciego" (the blind guy), who works for Martínez. Montes de Oca is a top killer for the Arellano Félix family. The Taipei Times notes that he is "known for gruesome torture and execution methods."
March 16, 2008 — "More than 20,000 Mexican troops and federal police are engaged in a multi-front war with the private armies of rival drug lords, a conflict that is being waged most fiercely along the 2,000-mile length of the U.S.-Mexico border," writes Manuel Roig-Franzia in the Washington Post. "The proximity of the violence has drawn in the Bush administration, which has proposed a $500 million annual aid package to help President Felipe Calderón combat what a Government Accountability Office report estimates is Mexico's $23 billion a year drug trade."
April 4, 2008 — Los Zetas, formed by Mexican army deserters, join forces with the Juárez cartel to wage battle against the army. Two hundred people have been killed in Juárez since January 1, reports the Las Cruces Sun-News. Various Mexican newspapers state that people are worried that Zeta commandos may set their sights on Tijuana to disrupt the military presence there so the Juárez cartel can take over what is left of the Arellano Félix territories.
April 14, 2008 — The U.S. Department of State issues the following travel alert: "Recent Mexican army and police force conflicts with heavily-armed narcotics cartels have escalated to levels equivalent to military small-unit combat and have included use of machine guns and fragmentation grenades. Confrontations have taken place in numerous towns and cities in northern Mexico, including Tijuana in the Mexican state of Baja California, and Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua.…
"Armed robberies and carjackings, apparently unconnected to the narcotics-related violence, have increased in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Dozens of U.S. citizens were kidnapped and/or murdered in Tijuana in 2007. Public shootouts have occurred during daylight hours near shopping areas.
"Criminals are armed with a wide array of sophisticated weapons. In some cases, assailants have worn full or partial police or military uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles.…
"Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles, particularly in border areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana.…
"In recent years, dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in Mexico and many cases remain unresolved. Moreover, new cases of disappearances and kidnap-for-ransom continue to be reported. No one can be considered immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors. U.S. citizens who believe they are being followed should notify Mexican officials as soon as possible.… It is preferable for U.S. citizens to stay in well-known tourist destinations and tourist areas of the cities with more adequate security, and provide an itinerary to a friend or family member not traveling with them. U.S. citizens should avoid traveling alone as a means to better ensure their safety. Refrain from displaying expensive-looking jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items.…"
The advisory recommends that "travelers avoid areas where prostitution and drug dealing occur."
April 16, 2008 — Banners and posters urging Mexican army soldiers to defect and join the cartels start to appear around Juárez and Tijuana. Citizens are offered jobs as well. The American Chronicle reports, "Mexican drug cartels are now advertising for young men to step up and come and join their ranks to fight the Mexican army. The ads and banners [promise] those who join will make good money, have food and a place to stay, even while in training." Michael Webster writes at borderfirereport.net that these training camps employ military commandos from Afghanistan, and "Iran is believed providing at least some of the money for this recruiting and training program. The training camps are teaching hit and run [guerilla] techniques." Advertisements for recruits appear on the Internet as well.
"Reforma, a leading Mexican newspaper, reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had detected a partnership between the Tijuana-based Arellano-Félix Organization (AFO) and Russian mafia groups based in southern California," Webster continues at borderfirereport.net. "Reforma reported that members of the former KGB-affiliated Kurganskaya group in San Diego had met with AFO operative Humberto Rodríguez Bañuelos…[and] that for at least the last ten years the Russian mafia was supplying Mexican drug traffickers with radars, automatic weapons, grenade launchers, and small submersibles."
April 20, 2008 — Guillermo Sánchez Lavenant, 19, an employee of the Hotel del Coronado, is kidnapped in Tijuana. Interviewing the young man's father, Angel Sánchez Pérez, the U-T reports, "Guillermo Sánchez and one of his brothers were driving in Tijuana in a 2002 Mercedes-Benz with tinted windows. That was not a sign of wealth, their father said." The two brothers are stopped by the Tijuana police for alleged traffic violations and speeding. The Tijuana police say that one of the brothers lifts his sweatshirt and displays a handgun. The brothers are arrested and held. Two days later, Guillermo is released and takes a taxi to the border. "About a block from the police station…a group of men with assault rifles surrounded the taxi and forced Guillermo Sánchez out." Angel Sánchez receives phone calls from the apparent kidnappers, asking for $1 million. He pleads that they have the wrong boy; his family has no money. The ransom calls stop April 24, and there is no indication of Guillermo's whereabouts. The brother, Victor Adrián, 22, is later released on bond. "A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office in Tijuana said an investigation is open but declined to comment further." The U-T article also reports, "Miguel Angel Lavenant, the eldest son in the family…said he was jailed in 2001 in connection with a homicide in Tijuana and released five months later.… He filed a complaint against authorities, and the case closed in 2002."
April 26, 2008 — Gun battles all over Tijuana streets leave 13 dead. "Gunmen began firing on each other with rifles and automatic weapons in a light industrial area east of the city," reports the Dallas Morning News, "ultimately leaving a trail of corpses, spent shell casings and bullet-riddled vehicles across Tijuana." Agustín Pérez Aguilar, spokesman for the Mexican State Public Safety Department, tells the press, "They are under pressure and turning on each other." The Los Angeles Times reports that one of the bodies had three words written on it with a marker: " 'Traidor, Enemigo, Objetivo,' or 'Traitor, Enemy, Target.' The first letters of the three Spanish words spelled 'Teo,' the nickname of Teodoro García Simental, leader of one of the warring factions."
May 8, 2008 — CNN reports that the chief of the Federal Preventive Police, Edgar Eusebio Millán Gómez, is shot nine times, "including in the throat" at 2:30 a.m. in Mexico City. Police arrest Alejandro Ramírez Báez for the assassination. Later, José Montes, a federal officer, is arrested in the conspiracy.
May 15–18, 2008 — Doctors at public and private hospitals and clinics in Tijuana systematically stop seeing nonemergency patients to protest the rise in violence against medical professionals in the region. "Three hundred to 400 people, including doctors, engineers, lawyers and other professionals, gathered in the glorieta where the statue of Cuauhtémoc stands," reports the U-T.
May 19, 2008 — Three hundred additional law enforcement officers are sent to Tijuana.
May 20, 2008 — Mexican marines shoot and wound in the eye Pfc. Joshua Kendall Monnett from Camp Pendleton. Reports claim he was driving a vehicle near a Rosarito checkpoint. The Mexican military claims Monnett would not stop his car. Officials from Camp Pendleton state Monnett has family in Rosarito and was not there on official business. Fox 6 News reports, "Six charges are expected to be filed…against Joshua Monnett, including possession of an M16, a bulletproof vest and ammunition magazines."
May 20, 2008 — Twenty-eight-year-old Libby Gianna Craig, from La Mesa, California, and three men are found shot to death in a canyon near Rosarito Beach in Baja California. "Authorities were still working to identify the men," reports the Associated Press, "but they were believed to be Mexican."
May 21, 2008 — A demonstration protesting the wave of kidnappings is held in Tijuana. USA Today runs a photo of Diana Sánchez Lavenant wiping away tears. She is the 21-year-old sister of Guillermo Sánchez Lavenant, who was kidnapped on April 20 and is still missing.
May 22, 2008 — Texas Cable News reports that Mexican police officers are starting to seek protection and sanctuary in the United States.
May 23, 2008 — "A U.S. State Department report on 'non-natural deaths' of U.S. citizens abroad says that 128 Americans were victims of homicides or 'executions' in Mexico between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 31, 2007," writes CNSNews.com. A total of 667 Americans were killed in Mexico by non-natural causes during that period. "The State Department says the report 'is based solely on cases reported by American citizens to our posts abroad,' " which leaves open the question of how complete or accurate it may be. Twenty-nine of the 128 murders occurred in Tijuana.
May 23, 2008 — The BBC reports that the drug cartels have stopped fighting one another and have joined forces to battle the Mexican army.
May 27, 2008 — Jo Tuckman from the U.K.'s Guardian visits the Tijuana morgue and offers these observations: "A coal-black scarcely human form lies near the body of a young man riddled with bullets. Next to him is another corpse with a single gunshot wound and signs of torture. Half a dozen other bodies lie on slabs and on the floor. Workers struggle to force a fat man into a hardboard coffin destined for the common municipal grave for the unidentified. One arm hangs over the edge. The stench is overpowering." The morgue's administrator, Federico Ortíz, tells the Guardian that 1021 bodies have come through the morgue between January and April, more than double the number in the first four months of 2007.
June 7, 2008 — The Los Angeles Times points out that many of Tijuana's upper middle class are leaving the city and relocating in the suburbs of San Diego, mostly in Otay Mesa, Nestor, and San Ysidro. The article states, "Real estate agents, business owners and victims groups estimate that more than 1,000 Tijuana families — including those of doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officials, Lucha Libre wrestlers and business owners — have made this move in recent years as the drug-fueled violence has worsened." Guillermo Alonso Meneses, a professor of cultural studies at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, tells reporter Richard Marosi, "San Diego is the only place you can forget the sense of insecurity and fear. There, you can breathe. Psychologically, crossing the border relieves the stress."
June 8–9, 2008 — After a lull in homicides in May, seven people are killed in Tijuana and three near Rosarito Beach over the weekend; one is a police officer. Five of them appear to be cartel executions. "In the case of the Tijuana police officer," reports the U-T, "the 16-year veteran was off-duty at a bar when he argued with a patron, who fired five shots from a .40-caliber handgun.… In two other cases, an 18-year-old man was killed after arguing with someone at a quinceañera party, and a 45-year-old woman was shot in the back during a carjacking.
June 19, 2008 — Reuters reports that a record number of San Diegans are risking the dangers of Tijuana to take advantage of the cheaper gas prices. A retired California engineer tells a Reuters reporter, "It's worth taking the risk even with the violence. I know they could kill me or kidnap me, but the cost of filling my tank in the United States is just too much." Diesel fuel is half what it is in the United States, regular gas $1.40 a gallon cheaper. Tijuana police now patrol the gas stations to quell violent outbursts from motorists waiting up to two hours in long lines.
June 21, 2008 — At a baptism party held at a Tijuana event hall known as "the Little Rascal," the Mexican army carries out a raid and finds ten members of the Arellano Félix gang. According to an Associated Press report, "A total of 61 people were arrested in the sweep…including the band hired to play the party and three city police officers." Also seized are "various rifles and handguns, police uniforms, 460 grams of methamphetamine and 5,000 rounds of ammunition."
June 25, 2008 — Mexican authorities acquiesce to U.S. demands for the extradition of Benjamín Arellano Félix ("El Min"). The Washington Post notes, "Mexico's Attorney General's office said Arellano Félix will be tried in a Southern California court on charges of smuggling tons of cocaine into California between 1990 and 2000."
July 5–7, 2008 — Six charred bodies, one still on fire, are found in an alley on the eastern side of Tijuana on the morning of July 7. Baja California's deputy attorney general Salvador Ortíz Morales tells news outlets that some are shot, some beaten, some have their heads wrapped in plastic, one is in handcuffs. "It's a situation that obviously worries us," Ortíz says. This is, according to Reuters, "two days after suspected drug hitmen in southern Mexico dumped a severed human head inside a black bag in the tourist city of Oaxaca, along with a threatening message for Mexican law enforcement." Adding to the toll, eight other bodies are found in Tijuana over the deadly weekend. Ortíz indicates that a Tijuana police officer is the chief suspect in a triple shooting. In addition, ten decapitated bodies are found throughout the Pacific coast city of Culiacán over the same week. The BBC reports, "Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquín 'Shorty' Guzmán, is trying to win control of smuggling routes into California." NPR claims, "State law enforcement officials say 272 people have been murdered in Tijuana so far this year," whereas the Los Angeles Times puts that number at 260 and Reuters puts it at "some 300 people." The total count across the nation for drug-related homicides is 2000 compared to 1410 last year, according to Mexico City's El Universal, although Reuters contends the 2008 body count is 1700.
The conflicting numbers lead news outlets to question the reliability of the Mexican government's reports, which seem to be a result of bad record keeping, erroneous interagency communication, the high turnover of government employees, and the Mexican government's dislike of the international media attention, which inevitably has a negative effect on the tourist trade. One journalist who has been covering the Tijuana beat contends that "if the police or army comes across a body and removes it before the press gets wind, that body will most likely go unreported."
"In a city with a large tourism economy, Tijuana city officials are scrambling for solutions," states the Los Angeles Times, noting officials "blamed the media for sensationalizing recent crimes." Victor Clark Alfaro, director of Tijuana's Bi-National Center for Human Rights, tells UPI.com, "In reality, the violence isn't targeting tourists. It's between drug traffickers, criminals and police. But the tourist doesn't know the difference."
July 16, 2008 — The extradition of Benjamín Arellano Félix has been suspended by a judge in the Mexican court, announces the Mexican attorney general's office. Benjamín's defense attorney, Américo Delgado, argues that his client "cannot be sent to the United States for trial until a court rules on the legality of the government's extradition order," reports NBC News San Diego. Mexico's attorney general's office states that it could take months, if not years, for a decision.
A Personal Timeline
May 18, 2006 — A friend from Kentucky wants to go to Tijuana. He has never been to Mexico and would like to try the seafood at a Basque restaurant across from the Jai Alai Palace. I have not been to Tijuana myself since 9/11. I go with him because he is a bit green and young and I have been hearing bad news coming out of Tijuana. The trip is uneventful, except for the hour-and-15-minute wait to get back across the border. The next day, Customs and Border Patrol agents shoot and kill the driver of a sport utility vehicle headed for the San Ysidro border crossing, backing up traffic both ways for hours. "We should have gone that day," I tell my friend. "You would've had a story to tell people back home."
September 9, 2006 — I am walking by Revolución and First, past the silver arches. Three Tijuana police officers standing by a parked truck order me to come over. "You — come here! Yes, you!" They ask me a lot of questions: what am I doing in Tijuana, did I buy drugs, do I have a weapon, am I gay? That's an odd question, I think. One keeps asking me, in good English, if I am a homosexual, saying, "Are you looking for a boyfriend? Are you a faggot?" The one asking me this can't be more than 20 years old, and he does not carry a gun like his older colleagues, who do not speak English. His uniform is baggy on his thin frame.
They have me assume the position against the truck. Two local men sit in the truck's bed, looking forlorn, wrists bound in plastic restraints. Two officers frisk me; the young one keeps asking me questions while the other places the things that are in my pockets, including my money, on the hood of the truck. I am afraid they will plant drugs on me as an excuse to arrest or blackmail me (many Americans report that to get out of the local jail, they have to ask family or friends to wire several hundred dollars to a Mexican account).
They let me go. When I check my money, three 20s are missing. I had $240; now I have $180. I realize what they did — while the younger one distracted me with questions and insults, his partner lifted $60.
October 1, 2006 — I tell a contact at the San Diego Police Department about the theft. "All the times I've been in TJ, I've never been rousted by the cops there," I say. He tells me I am lucky I did not get my ass kicked. He has been working the border beat, he tells me, and there has been a rash of Americans coming back beaten up and robbed by the local police or men dressed as such. This reminds me of a young woman I once knew, a former SDSU student. She and two friends, drunk in Tijuana, were stopped by the police; she said they had the choice of going to jail or providing sexual favors to the officers. They happened to have $250 among the three of them, which the police accepted instead.
December 10, 2006 — I have never seen Tijuana so empty, like a ghost town. On a Friday, usually the busiest time, the main streets in downtown are empty of clubgoing tourists and police. I cannot walk down a single block without being grabbed by barkers from clothing shops, bars, pharmacies, even fast-food establishments such as Burger King and McDonald's. People are desperate for money. Troop transports and Humvees with gun mounts drive down the streets.
December 11, 2006 — In the Rio Verde bar, the music is a narcocorrido — an evolution of the norteño folk corrido custom, which uses accordion-based polka, with a loud thump-thump of bass as a rhythmic base. Corrido lyrics are usually about the poor and destitute or noble banditos; the narcocorrido focuses on drug smugglers — their adventures, experiences, and killings. Narcocorrido lyrics refer to specific events and assassinations, including dates, places, and names of the killers and the killed. Gangsters commission new songs that document and glorify a drug deal turned violent or a slaying and the reason for it — betrayal, theft of drugs, being a witness or an informant. Thousands of years ago, soldiers and warriors lived for the day when a song or poem would be composed about their battles and killings.
It is 4:00 a.m. in the Rio Verde. On the small, circular stage, drunken men bounce up and down, polka-style, with women young and old whom they have paid $1 a song, the women standing on the feet of the men, holding on, as they move fast in a semicircular dance to music whose lyrics extol murder, dismemberment, shallow graves, and heads chopped off.
January 13, 2007 — Five minutes after crossing the border, I am stopped by police and searched.
"Please don't take my money," I say.
"We don't do that anymore," the officer replies.
January 28, 2008 — I am taking pictures in the Zona Norte area when two police officers push me against the wall of the Miami Club and take my camera. They say I can't do this, gesturing toward the surveillance nodes under the awnings along the block. One hits me in the stomach, but not hard; it's just to startle me. They confiscate my camera. I give them $120 in lieu of being arrested. They don't find the emergency $100 I always keep in my sock. I duck into the nearby Hong Kong Club, afraid they may change their minds; a waiter I know tells me I am lucky. "They usually take you down to the jail, where you have to pay to get out, like $200 or $300," says the waiter. "You're lucky those cops needed some quick cash," he adds. I wonder how much they'll sell my camera for. When I walk out, I nervously look around for the two cops, then jump into a compact Liberty Taxi and tell the driver, "La línea, fast."
February 17, 2008 — Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Marosi visits Tijuana and writes, "Tree-lined promenades feature repaved sidewalks and roadways. Police sweeps have cleared out the drug addicts. Gone too are most of the beggars and hookers. At the balcony bars, club owners have turned down the ear-splitting volume." He must have been in TJ on a good day. The beggars and hookers are still around, not on Revolución but a block northwest. The music coming out of the bars and clubs is just as loud as ever.
March 5, 2008 — I'm near the McDonald's at the border and can hear faint gunfire in the distance. Helicopters are in the sky. People around me are nervous, especially the shopkeepers, because they know this new incident of urban warfare will mean a further drop in tourism, and their income.
June 30, 2008 — An American couple who live in the Zona Rio neighborhood of Tijuana and commute to San Diego for work tell me the drug-related violence has not come their way. "It's a whole different world," I'm told. "Where we live is La Jolla — nice. We walk our dog at midnight. A lot of Americans are here — no one is afraid." They think the reports of American tourists being in danger are "hype" but admit they do not go to "the bad side" of town. "If you're looking for trouble there, you'll find it. We stay away from that."
July 2, 2008 — At a restaurant in Tijuana I snag my slacks on a nail under a table. My slacks rip at the knee. When I cross the border, a customs agent points at my torn pants and asks, "Were you hurt down there, sir?" I say no, there was a snag. "If you were hurt or attacked, you should report it," the agent says. I insist it was just a snag. "Don't be afraid to report it," the agent says.
July 6, 2008 — Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles Times writes, "Mexico is considered the most dangerous Latin American nation in which to be a journalist, and one of the riskiest in the world.… Reporters have been seized, held for hours and beaten.… In a macabre twist on public relations, journalists have been pressured to publicize decapitations or other violent acts. Drug gangs view such publicity as a way to scare rivals and enhance their own standing in the underworld."
I think about these things when I step through the metal turnstile gate that delineates Tijuana from the rest of the world.